More Former Aides Allege Misconduct by Cuomo

Governor Cuomo. Photo: Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

Several more women have come forward to accuse New York governor Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate conduct — including two publicly — while other former aides claim that Cuomo fostered a toxic work environment with his often emotionally abusive behavior toward staff. The new allegations were published Saturday by the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, and follow two former Cuomo aides accusing the governor of sexual harassment, and a third woman coming forward who said Cuomo grabbed and kissed her at a wedding they both attended. On Wednesday, Cuomo attempted to offer a blanket apology for making any women uncomfortable with his behavior, but denied touching anyone inappropriately and refused to resign over the growing scandal. He was even more defiant about the idea on Sunday, shortly before State Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins released a statement saying the governor “must” resign in light of the new allegations, and state Assembly speaker Carl Heastie almost did the same.

Below is an overview of the new allegations that came to light on Saturday.

Another former aide, Ana Liss, accuses Cuomo of inappropriate conduct

Ana Liss, who worked as a policy and operations aide for Cuomo from 2013 to 2015, told The Wall Street Journal that she had been subject to unsolicited flirtation from the governor and other inappropriate conduct that she considered demeaning. The experience prompted her to request a transfer to another office, struggle with her mental health and drink heavily, and eventually leave the Cuomo administration.

Liss told the Journal she decided to come forward after two other former aides, Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett, accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. Liss, who was in her late 20s when she began working with the Cuomo administration, said the governor asked her if she had a boyfriend, touched her lower back at a reception, and once kissed her hand after she got up from her desk, which was near Cuomo’s office in the Capitol:

She said she was proud of her role in the Executive Chamber but was dismayed that the governor never asked her about her work, focusing instead on personal questions or her appearance. Ms. Liss recalled working at a May 6, 2014, reception at the Executive Mansion in Albany, which is Mr. Cuomo’s official residence. Mr. Cuomo was in a living room on the north side of the mansion’s first floor and noticed Ms. Liss, she recalled.

“He came right over to me and he was like, ‘Hey, Sweetheart!’” she said.

She said the governor hugged her, kissed her on both cheeks and then wrapped his arm around her lower back and grabbed her waist. They turned to a photographer, who took a picture that shows Mr. Cuomo’s hand around her waist. …

Ms. Liss said she never made a formal complaint about the behavior of the governor or anyone else. She said she eventually asked for a transfer to another office. Ms. Liss said her experience working for the governor prompted her to begin mental-health counseling in 2014. She said she drank heavily that year, and she left the Executive Chamber in 2015 to take a position at Cornell University as a corporate-relations manager.

Liss “initially perceived Mr. Cuomo’s conduct as harmless flirtations,” the Journal reports, but over time “has come to see it as patronizing, and she added it diminished her from an educated professional to ‘just a skirt.’”

Responding to Liss’s allegations, Cuomo adviser Rich Azzopardi told the Journal that, “Reporters and photographers have covered the governor for 14 years watching him kiss men and women and posing for pictures” at events.

Other female aides recount pattern of similar behavior by Cuomo

According to current and former aides who spoke with the Journal and the Washington Post, Cuomo regularly asks staff members about their dating lives, touches them, and makes comments about their personal appearance. Multiple women who spoke with the Post recounted a range of similar experiences to what Ms. Liss described.

One former staffer in the Cuomo administration said the governor called her “honey” or “sweetheart” instead of using her name. Another said she had the sense “that you were expected to look and behave in a certain way, be playful in a certain way” in the workplace, and that she eventually started wearing tighter dresses and higher heels like other women who seemed to receive more approval from the governor and his senior staff, feeling that part of her job was to be “eye candy.” The Journal adds that “Longtime staffers told some women they should wear high heels when the governor was in Albany, according to Liss and other former staffers.” (A Cuomo spokesperson denied that.)

Several women who spoke with the Post said they didn’t view Cuomo’s behavior as sexual in nature — other former staffers said they were shocked by the recent accusations of sexual harassment against Cuomo.

The Post also spoke with a “high-ranking political appointee” at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which Cuomo ran from 1997 to 2001:

[The official] recalled a 2000 incident she characterized as so “inappropriate” that it has bothered her for more than two decades. She had only been on the job for about three weeks when she had a meeting scheduled with Cuomo and an official from the Treasury Department. She and the Treasury official were already at the conference table when Cuomo entered the room.

She stood to greet him, and she recalled Cuomo walking over — to hug her, then kiss her on the cheek. “I remember being to this day mortified that he had done this to me in front of this official,” the woman recalled. After the meeting ended and Cuomo left, the Treasury official turned to ask her how long she and Cuomo had been friends. She responded that she had just started the job.

The woman said she did not consider the kiss sexual and did not feel Cuomo was coming on to her. Instead, she said she felt the move was “more like a power trip” designed to establish himself as dominant in front of the Treasury official. “I was so embarrassed, because of course I felt like he was thinking, ‘She was just brought on to be a squeeze,’ ” she said. “It completely diminished me, of course, in the eyes of this person. I have no doubt about that.”

Former HUD aide Karen Hinton describes distressing hotel-room encounter with Cuomo

Karen Hinton, who worked as a press aide for Cuomo when he ran the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, told the Washington Post that Cuomo had her meet him in his hotel room after a work event in 2000, when she was working as a consultant for the agency. Hinton had worked as a communications official at the agency under Cuomo for more than four years until she left in 1999. The Post report notes that she and Cuomo “had a bad fight before she left the full-time position at the agency that ended in a screaming fit, she said, with each hurling profanities at the other. … Hinton said they argued frequently but inevitably made peace.”

Then after a HUD event in Los Angeles the following year, she said Cuomo asked her to come to his room in the hotel they were both staying in to “catch up.” Per the Post:

Hinton — then 42, around the same age as Cuomo — said she initially did not think the request was unusual. Perhaps Cuomo wanted to smooth things over after her rocky departure and discuss press work for the following day, she thought. But then Cuomo said: “Don’t let Clarence see you,” referring to Clarence Day, his longtime head of security, who regularly stood in the hallway outside Cuomo’s hotel suites. “Clarence will block any woman from coming into my room,” Cuomo said, according to her recollection. “He is very protective and didn’t want to raise any eyebrows.” Hinton, who said she had known Day for years, said she found the request strange. But she said she nevertheless went upstairs to his room.

Hinton said the lights were oddly dimmed when she entered Cuomo room, which caused her to pause, since “he never keeps the lights this low.” She said they sat on opposite couches and talked about work and their lives, including her struggles with her marriage at the time — and that Cuomo asked her a number of personal questions, including whether or not she planned to leave her husband, and she eventually grew uncomfortable with the situation:

Cuomo told her they needed to stay friends and help each other going forward, Hinton said. At some point, Hinton said, she grew self-conscious that she had talked so much about her personal life and her marriage. She decided to leave. “I stand up and say, ‘It’s getting late, I need to go,’ ” she said. Cuomo stood up, walked over and embraced her, she recalled. She described it as “very long, too long, too tight, too intimate.” “It’s not just a hug,” she added. Hinton said she pulled away.

“He pulls me back for another intimate embrace,” she said. “I thought at that moment it could lead to a kiss, it could lead to other things, so I just pull away again, and I leave.”

She did not explicitly call the encounter sexual harassment, but that she thought Cuomo was trying to exert power over her:

“It was the same to me,” she said, adding that she was concerned about “the personal and professional problems that could have been created.” She described Cuomo’s move as a “power play” for “manipulation and control.”

She said the two never discussed the episode. They remained in touch and socialized over the years, she said. Her second husband, Howard Glaser, worked for Cuomo at HUD and served as a top deputy to Cuomo in the governor’s mansion for five years.

The Post spoke with two people close to Hinton who said she told them about the hotel-room experience after it happened, and remember how distressed she was by the encounter.

Hinton told the Post she decided to finally share her experience publicly in solidarity with Cuomo’s other accusers and after being upset by Cuomo’s press conference on Wednesday, in which he apologized if he ever unintentionally made his staffers feel uncomfortable or caused them pain, but denied any inappropriate conduct:

[Hinton] said that watching the news conference “drove me crazy” and that Cuomo knew better, saying he was regularly flirtatious with women, what she viewed as part of a broader effort to manipulate those around him. “I really thought the flirt wasn’t about having sex,” she said. “It was about controlling the relationship.”

In response to her allegations, Cuomo communications director Peter Ajemian attacked Hinton, who has criticized Cuomo publicly before, particularly when she was New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary in 2015 and 2016. “This did not happen. Karen Hinton is a known antagonist of the governor’s who is attempting to take advantage of this moment to score cheap points with made-up allegations from 21 years ago,” Ajemian said to the Post, adding that it was “reckless” for the press to report allegations without considering “self-motivation.”

Aides describe toxic work environment under Cuomo — and fear of his retaliation

In addition to Ms. Hinton, the Post said it reached out to more than 150 people who have worked with Cuomo over the past few decades, but not many responded, and most of the more than 20 who did insisted they would only do so if they remained anonymous, since “they still fear his wrath and his power to destroy careers.” After the report was published, Post reporter Amy Brittain noted in a tweet that, “I’ve been a reporter for a decade now, and I don’t think I have ever heard people as fearful to speak about someone as they are about Gov. Andrew Cuomo.”

From what they had to say, it’s not hard to see why:

Two male aides who worked for Cuomo in the New York governor’s office say he routinely berated them with explicit language, making comments such as calling them “pussies” and saying, “You have no balls.” … Many former aides and advisers described to The Post a toxic culture in which the governor unleashes searing verbal attacks on subordinates. Some said he seemed to delight in humiliating his employees, particularly in group meetings, and would mock male aides for not being tough enough. …

Their accounts had striking similarities. Multiple staffers recounted verbal abuse and emotional manipulation, saying the governor was often consumed by rage and irritation toward them, only to be kind and charming in their next interactions. They found the sharp contrast to be deeply disorienting, with some saying it even drove colleagues to suffer emotional breakdowns.

“He can make you crazy, and then he can act like you’re the best person he has ever met,” said one person close to him.

“People were terrified of him,” a former HUD appointee told the Post. “You couldn’t forget it. Anyone who tells you they don’t remember is not telling the truth. Everybody got their turn, including me.”

Another former aide claimed that Cuomo “always has to be the smartest person in the room. He will beat people down so he is the only person standing.”

Other former Cuomo staffers said they still respected him and his work ethic. Responding to the Journal about the hostile workplace claims, Cuomo adviser Rich Azzopardi said, “There is no secret these are tough jobs, and the work is demanding, but we have a top-tier team with many employees who have been here for years, and many others who have left and returned.”

While some of the more than 30 officials who spoke with the Journal also said the Cuomo administration was a toxic workplace, “Many former staffers recalled the governor’s actions more endearingly. Once on Valentine’s Day, Mr. Cuomo had roses delivered to the female employees, they said. Two women who received the flowers said they appreciated the gesture.”

Earlier accuser claims Cuomo had aide take sexual harassment training for him

Charlotte Bennett, the second former aide to accuse Governor Cuomo of sexual harassment, told CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell in an interview that aired Friday that “in 2019, [Cuomo] did not take the sexual harassment training”:

“I was there. I heard [the office director] say, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this for you’ and making a joke about the fact that she was completing the training for him. And then I heard her at the end ask him to sign the certificate.” 

The governor’s office responded to that Cuomo office director Stephanie Benton “categorically denies the exchange” Bennett said she recalled. Cuomo special counsel Beth Garvey told CBS News the governor “completed the training.”

Bennett also called Cuomo a “textbook abuser” in the interview.

Cuomo says ‘no way’ he’ll resign, calls doing so ‘anti-democratic’

As former aides came forward detailing alleged harassment last week, the governor offered some limited words of apology. That tone had changed by Sunday, when Cuomo said there was “no way” he would resign. He said he would not listen to calls by politicians for him to step down because he was elected by the people, not “by politicians.” In a telling defense, he described the idea of resigning “because of allegations” an “anti-democratic” idea and a violation of due process.

More Former Aides Allege Misconduct by Cuomo